|1950s carpet bag handbag made by Jana Handbags, Inc|
Carpet bags were a form of inexpensive, durable luggage made from remnants of new carpeting or lesser-worn sections of used, worn-out carpeting. Carpet bags were in common use during the 1800s through the early 1900s when the population of the US and Europe became more mobile and had a need for luggage. Carpet bags often had leather handles and some had a hinged frame much like the design of a traditional doctor’s bag, but they were also made in other configurations. Most carpet bags were commercially made, but some were home-crafted as the materials became available and the need for luggage presented itself.
The term “carpetbagger” is a derogatory term that generally refers to northerners who moved to southern states after the civil war in order to exploit the economically depressed southerners. The term was also used when referring to northerners who moved to the south to become involved in local politics in an effort to impose their beliefs on the local population and to profit from their power. It was said that these northerners arrived carrying all of their worldly possessions in a carpet bag, hence the term “carpetbagger” evolved.
The use of carpet bags as luggage declined in the early 1900s after different types of commercially-made luggage came into fashion. In the 1940s fashion designers reinvented the traditional carpet bag luggage into much smaller versions that were used as ladies’ handbags. In 1964, the movie Mary Poppins stirred up new interest in carpet bags, for in that movie Mary Poppins carried a magical carpet bag that enthralled many viewers. The interest in these handbags continued sporadically into the 1970s.
Early carpet bag luggage can be difficult to find and may command high process today, but the modern handbag versions are often available in antique shops and are usually more reasonably priced. An interesting side note: the original carpet bag from the Mary Poppins movie was given away after the filming of the movie concluded. The new owners actually used it as luggage and their children used it when playing dress-up, and then it was tucked away in a box for many years. In 2010 it was offered for sale at an auction. It was expected to sell for approximately $10,000, but it sold for $95,000 plus commission.